More Disappointment For Families As The ‘Free School Meal’ Scheme Continues To Fail Children In The UK

“No child will ever go hungry”. This was what the UK Government said with regards to their plans to “end child food poverty” during the Covid pandemic. However, MPs and government officials have already broken their promise and left thousands of children and families neglected… again.

Back in October various Tory MPs refused to support the ‘Free School Meals’ (FSM) campaign. Mark Jenkinson, Workington MP defended his refusal by saying, “I know in my constituency that, as tiny a minority as it might be, food parcels are sold or traded for drugs,” reports the Guardian. Danny Kruger, the Tory MP for Devizes in Wiltshire also added, “The problem is that generous, unconditional, universal benefit entitlements trap people in dependency on the state…” To deny children of food because of your own narrowminded views is unacceptable, but when you are in a position of power these views are particularly menacing. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that 8 in 10 people claiming Universal Credit in November of last year were in work or looking for work, and the pandemic has “exacerbated the pre-existing barriers to work as a route out of poverty” – the Big Issue reports. Tory MPs denying children their basic, fundamental rights are due to hackneyed stereotypes typecast onto the working class by elitist politicians.

Professional footballer Marcus Rashford has spearheaded the campaign and has been vocal in his dismay at the government’s initial refusal to provide FSM. In October, he appealed to MPs to put aside their political differences by saying, “We talk about the devastating impact of COVID-19 but, if projections are anything to go by, child food poverty has the potential to become the greatest pandemic the country has ever faced. We must start working together and unite to protect our most vulnerable children”, The Evening Standard reported.

After much campaigning, MPs agreed to FSM and organized food parcels to be delivered to children in desperate need during lockdown. However, more disappointment followed when ‘inadequate’ food parcels were shared via social media. Those eligible for the FSM should be entitled to £30 food vouchers; however, some children have been sent food hampers costing a fraction of the price. Parcels provided were intended to feed a child for 10 days. Instead, a loaf of bread due to expire in couple of days, two cans of baked beans, one potato, one carrot, two eggs and clingfilmed cheese and/or ham were provided – the Metro reports. Anyone still conversant with today’s society knows that that does not equate to £30 or can provide a child with a balanced, healthy, and sufficient food plan.

Chartwells, the company that provided the food parcels said the food provided was only intended to last one week and that the food had cost £10.50. The firm released a statement and said, “We apologize for the parcels, they do not meet the firm’s high standards. We are committed to refunding the costs”. Children and families minister Vicky Ford has assured families that they have taken immediate actions to stop further deliveries of poor-quality parcels. Only time will tell if Ministers follow through with their new promises. Prime Minister Boris Johnson added further comments by saying, “The meals pictured online do not reflect government guidance”, adding, “it is a scandal and a disgrace that some companies are trying to get away with the provision that they’re offering”. However, this feels as if the Prime Minister is passing the blame along and not taking responsibility for his parties’ incompetence. The food parcels should have been checked and agreed to before being sent out to vulnerable families. Now, more children are expected to suffer food poverty until the Tory government realizes the importance of the situation in providing basic needs for society’s most vulnerable.

However, families are once again shrouded with disappointment, worry and confusion, as the Government have now said that FSM will not be provided over February half term, The Independent reports. The Covid Winter Grant Scheme was developed to support children, families and the most vulnerable over winter, GOV reports. £170m was provided to ensure this happens…However, the Government have said that during the half term, it is the responsibility of local councils to provide FSM. Yet, the care provided by each local council is varied, leaving many families unsure of what they can expect. The Tory government have once again passed the baton on, avoiding the responsibility. Why has the government not created a solid, comprehensive plan on how they will provide sustainable and fair support to all vulnerable families, both during school hours and during half terms and holidays.

Elitism continues to shine through, overshadowing the needs of people who are in desperate need. We are witnessing a system of privileged and fortunate individuals who bear conservative ideologies and condone selective, and superior policies and conventions. Any person not in agreement of providing children with free school meals during a global pandemic is surely not fit for office. Families need clarification on what is expected. However, and more importantly, families need far more than what is currently being provided. No child should go hungry and no family should be left in poverty due to the discrepancies of the current government.

Katie Clarke